“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Monday, January 3, 2011

Swing Cafe • Picture Book with CD

Swing Cafe
by Carl Norac • illustrations by Rebecca Dautremer  • narration by Bebel Gilberto and David Francis
Available now  The Secret Mountain  • Ages 5 - 7
With classic recordings from the swing era by Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and other jazz legends at its centerpieces, this storybook-music CD set combines music from 1930s jazz songs with a classic, heartwarming story.
Story: A little Brazilian cricket named Zaz dreams of singing in New York. After hopping a ride on a woman’s fruit hat that takes her from her homeland to Manhattan, she meets a savvy fly named Buster who brings her to the Swing Café on East 54th Street. Everyone there speaks a common language, called Swing, and Zaz is inspired to take to the stage, sing from the heart, and deliver the performance of a lifetime. Inspired by Broadway star Carmen Miranda, who was affectionately nicknamed in Brazil "La Pequena Notavel" (The Remarkable Little Girl).
Story behind the story: Instead of sharing a behind-the-scenes look at the making of this storybook/CD, I give you, instead a narrated excerpt.  Give a listen.  It's worth it and will have you reaching for the book -- and looking up music from Ellington, The Mills Brothers, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen Miranda, Lionel Hampton and more.

★"Dautremer's visual imagination taps the subconscious brilliantly . . . Norac's writing is equally arresting....Intelligent, poetic, and provocative entertainment"  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The package is unusual and fresh."  —Kirkus Reviews

"Combining books and music has been a growing trend, with a number of notable new additions . . . Secret Mountain also is continuing its wonderfully innovative storybook-music CD series with two new titles. Swing Café (written by Carl Norac and illustrated by Rebecca Dautremer) follows the adventures of a cricket named Zaz to the soundtrack of vintage jazz tunes (Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, etc)."  —L. A. Parent

FYI:  All the review copies for this title have been sent.  Please check back and see the "comments" link to read what your colleagues have to say...


wordwarrior said...

"Swing Cafe" written by Carl Norac and Illustrated by Rebecca Dautremer is a exotic treat. The illustrations are a feast for the eyes, stylistic and full of flavor. The story is not steeped in a heavy plot, but is flavored with rich vocabulary and imagination. The true enjoyment of the book comes from listening to the CD with the audio story narration by Bebel Gilberto and David Francis. Without the CD the story stalls a bit. It needs the enriched accent of the readers and the jazz tones to bring the story to life. With the CD I think a younger child might appreciate the music and story, without, the story needs a more mature sophisticated reader.
How delightful that the book can reach all levels. I would recommend this book for picnics with readers from all levels. "Swing Cafe" aids readers in the appreciation of music and literature. Music teachers from all educational levels will enjoy introducing their students to historical Jazz with this entertaining story! I Give "Swing Cafe" a 5!

Susan Appleton said...

Swing Cafe is a very interesting book. I found myself having to read the lines over and over to get the gist of the story. It was pretty interesting though and the accompanying CD REALLY made it come alive!!!! I will say that the illustrations are VERY VERY vivid and really make you feel like you yourself have traveled through a journey just like Zaz. When I read it a second time, after listening to the CD, it was a much more magical journey and I enjoyed the themes of friendship and following after your dreams! I would give this a 4 out of 5 and highly recommend that readers listen to the CD before and after reading the book to get the full experience!

loonyhiker said...

I would give this book 4 out of 5. This book was rich in culture and music but it really needed the CD to make it a good read. First I read the story and noticed how wonderful the illustrations popped off the pages. I had trouble blending the story easily when I was reading it but when I listened to the CD, it all blended easily together.

I loved the narrator’s accent on the CD which made the story come alive. The story was also enhanced by the music that accompanied the story. I think this story could be used in a classroom to introduce culture, geography, new vocabulary (lots of wonderful rich vocabulary throughout the story), music, friendship, dance, travel, and social skills. I think this would be a nice book for young children to read and listen to but I also think it would work for older elementary grades too because of the richness of culture and music throughout the story. Even as an adult, I enjoyed the story and music so I think middle school and high school would benefit just from listening to the CD along with the book.

Pat Hensley
Special Ed Teacher
Greenville, SC

janew said...

Swing Cafe is THE BOMB with its themes of love, loss, and following your dreams. I read the book, savoring its strong plot, quirky characters, humor, and language, while becoming increasingly aware that the book would need to be read and reread to caputure the book’s heart and soul- its lift and lilt. Dautremer's surrealistic illustrations complement and extend Norac's text with rich expressive characters, colors, and humor. They, too, require time to appreciate their beauty. However, when I popped the CD into the computer, followed the book as I listened to narrators Gilberto (who is a distinguished Brazilian singer) and David Francis, swayed to the musical recordings of Miranda, Ellington, Calloway, Fitzgerald, Strayhorn, and so many more, did I fall under Swing Cafe's spell, fully satisfied, and concluded that THIS is the ONLY way to read Swing Cafe. This book has broad appeal to upper elementary and middle school readers as its links to history and music are strong. The plot's extended development may lose many young readers along the way but the opportunities to hear the crackling musical recordings of Cab, Ella, Duke, Lionel, Carmen, and more will certainly pull them into the magic and should not be missed. 5/5

M. Battista said...

I am not quite sure how to rate this book. I like it's rich imagery, delightful plot and jazzy CD. The problem that I will encounter is that there are very few students I will be able to loan this to who will be able to "get it" without a lot of set up and explanation. It would be fantastic for a teacher led study so it could be appreciated and understood. I do hope I can get this into the hands of kids who will appreciate it because it is a lovely tale with so much great music. I especially loved the naked beetle and the line - "I wanted jazz, but I got the blues."

Picnic rating 3.5

Denair Elementary School Library
Denair, CA

Anonymous said...

I just received my review copy, upon first read I have trouble understanding the choice of illustration, symbolism, simile and comparisons. I feel I need a much deeper understanding of the swing movement to understand this story. The references are obscure to me, but it may be different for a music teacher or someone with deeper knowledge about the swing movement. I didn't see a connection here for elementary students, but it could be used in a music theory or history class studying Swing as complementary material. The illustrations were highly intriguing and skilled, but felt just as enigmatic as the story. I wanted to love it, the way I love the music, but I came away confused.

Anonymous said...

"Swing Cafe" is not what I expected. The illustrations are rich and pleasing, however, the story line is not presented in a way I thought it would be. I thought this book was written for the elementary-age audience; however, like other reviewers, I don't know that this book would capture their attention or spark their interest. I rate this book 3/5.

janette said...

I really enjoyed "Swing Cafe." What a beautiful book! The illustrations were amazing, and drew me in immediately.
I didn't listen to the CD with the book the first time i read it and i think because of that, I found it hard to get into the words on the page. I had to read and re-read some lines. But the second time through, with the CD made the journey so much better.
I came away feeling that an older audience would get so much out of this book. It's almost too deep for a mid-elementary read. I think to truly appreciate it, the audience would have to be older. Perhaps it could be used as part of a music class or a lesson on culture.
Overall, i appreciated the book. It wasn't what i was originally expecting, but surprises are okay sometimes too.
I give "Swing Cafe" a 4/5

Linda said...

Swing Cafe is absolutely a "swingin' book) and what a bonus to have CD along with it. It is book that transcends grade levels and ages. I agree with other bloggers to listen to the CD while "reading the book". The resources on it make it alive and living. The illustrations are something you want to savor. I give it a 5.

Norah Connolly said...

I really enjoyed Swing Cafe for its delightful illustrations, lively vocabulary, and epic story line. The illustrations in particular are inviting, engrossing, rich in color, and complement the tale very well.

While I think younger students would enjoy the story, especially told in stages with the CD, I believe that middle school students who are learning about the hero's journey would love to study this book. There is so much to analyze: Zaz's friends she meets along the way, her decision to "live out her dream" in America, the trials she meets along the way, and discovering her true self through her talents.

The jazz music CD accompaniment is another element worth exploring on its own or as a part of this multi-layered work. The music and narrations add a depth and dimension to the story's overall tone. The accents and choice of songs bring the story alive.

As a whole package, this book and CD are a gem and I am happy to have them circulate in my school's library.

Norah Connolly
K - 8 School Librarian
Somerville, MA

Kris McAllister said...

This book combines jazz music with wonderful illustrations. The accompanying CD celebrates jazz music- from an era too many of our students know nothing about. The best way to use this is to play the CD and show the illustrations using a document camera. The size of the book makes it difficult to use with a group of students. All in all, it's an enjoyable experience.

Peaceful Reader said...

Swing Cafe is an aspiring story about making your dreams come true. I loved the rich illustrations and the very jazzy language. I plan to pass this on to our wonderfully creative band and music teacher and see what she can do with it. The story is much more enhanced by the CD~listening to the dialect and language. I give it a four-it is beautiful look at music and culture but not a perfect fit for all programs. I don't think my elementary students will understand the story without help from an adult. I plan to listen to it several more times before passing it on. I think an older audience studying music appreciation could benefit from this diverse book/CD set.

ahslibrarian said...

Swing Café contains a lot of vibrant illustrations that bring to mind the best of a fantasy-laced swinging time. Dautremer has her pen finely tuned to evoke the emotions and era of the recording artists featured on the included disc, but that is about it as far as the book is concerned. There is no argument about the music selections, but there is a problem with the story.
At several points, I found myself saying, “Huh?” Those points included the intended audience and the continuity of the text as it relates to the story. I tried, honestly, and I did find a use for a page here and a page there. But a page here and a page there is not enough to persuade teachers or parents to purchase the book. Yes, those pages can be used in isolation for teaching about instruments and some basic literary concepts, but the reader is often left with the lingering question: “Huh?”
More than anything else, the colorful illustrations were buried in the amount of text presented to the reader. I wanted to erase all the text and begin again with a truncated version that provided a more concise and exciting experience. I do not believe the story has a cultural disconnect, but I do believe it takes a few unnecessary turns that renders it inert. I did get the point, finally, but it was too late, and I’m afraid a really clever idea has missed the point, and a unique opportunity to fill a niche in the market. To that end, I had hoped for a text that expressed the color of the illustrative content and followed the rhythms expressed in the music.
A page here and a page there does not give me reason to recommend Swing Café to any group of potential readers. One for the illustrations and one for the music; story is everything.

Picnic Basket Rating: 2 out of a possible 5

John Parker
Media Coordinator
Andrews High School
50 HS Drive
Andrews, NC 28901

Anonymous said...

A beautiful hardbound feast for the eyes. The colors are rich and bold. Although beautiful in its illustrations, it was difficult to share in a whole group setting. The text was very difficult for primary children to understand. The CD reading was also difficult for the children to grasp.However, the music on the CD was excellent and gave a good taste of jazz. The children enjoyed listening to the instruments. Our music teacher was able to incorporate the CD in one of her lessons. Overall, I would rate this book a 3.

Anonymous said...

I used this book with my second grade class- seven and eight year olds- and found that while they absolutely LOVED the music, very few of them were able to follow and understand the story even with the CD. The illustrations were lovely, and the book was full of descriptive language which I'll probably use in a future writing lesson. I do think that the book would be more appropriate- especially as an independent read- for children older than second grade. I'll rate this a 3 out of 5.

Heather Hill said...

"Swing Cafe" was not what I had expected from the cover of the story. It took me re-reading the first several pages to realize the characters were insects. I was kind of disappointed and confused because the insects looked more like people. I think the story would have resonated more with me had the characters been people.

The book would be appropriate for older elementary students -- like 5th grade. I don't think that younger students would get much out of the story, but they would enjoy the music. I did love that the CD included with the story has so much great music on it that kids of all ages would love. Having the story also on the CD as a printable file is a great feature. I give the book a 3 out of 5.

Heather Hill, Reading Specialist
Enterprise Elementary
Woodbridge, VA

Anonymous said...

I agree with earlier reviewers that "swing Cafe" is a visual treat. The selection of images that were chosen to accompany the text could be studied in an art design class. The rich vocabulary and imagery could be studied in a writing class. The music would enhance any introduction to jazz.
Given the length and plotlines, I'm just not sure where the entire book fits in.
I could see using a selection of pages with my middle school students, but not the entire book.
Picnic Rating: 3

Dr. Anja Comerford said...

I really wanted to love this book. I was thrilled with the idea of the kids getting a great story from a wonderfully historic time and having the bonus of music from the time. However, I was disappointed. I tried using the pdf version of the book on my smartboard with the CD playing elsewhere. The CD/music would not play in a regular CD player, so I had to save the pdf to my computer and then try to play the CD in my DVD/CD player. The CD skipped/dropped words at least once per 2-page spread. This was very frustrating for my kids who could not see the text on the 2-page pdf spread well enough to read along and fill in the dropped words.

I really, really wanted to like this book. Am also interested in some of the other CD/book combos in the promotional materials from the publisher

2/5 stars

Dr. Anja Comerford
Magnolia Park Elementary
Ocean Springs, MS